Chronic stress is a dangerous situation. This occurs when your body is on high alert for extended periods of time. Further down, we'll list a few of the major health hazards that can arise from this situation.
There are times when stress can be a good thing. The human body is designed to handle ordinary, periodic stress. Exercise is a form of stress. It's actually a response to change that requires some adjustment. That could be a mental or physical response.
Stress also releases the two hormones that alert your body to danger. These hormones, cortisol and adrenaline engage that flight or fight mode that is instinctive for survival.
We'll start with one of the worst effects of chronic stress. We'll pull this explanation right out of "Fix It." In that great book, Dr. Chauncey Crandall describes how arteriosclerosis is often the result of this constant high alert response. When your body releases these hormones, your heart will speed up and blood vessels will constrict. This can often lead to inflammation and can cause the arteries to be less flexible.
We know that arteriosclerosis is a major cause of heart disease. And we know that heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in America. I think that rates chronic stress as a major concern.
As we've learned from the page about high blood pressure, this can be the beginning of major problems for your cardiovascular system. It starts with stress and builds from there.
Dr. Crandall points out that tests have proven physical stress usually makes arteries become more elastic, while mental stress causes that loss of elasticity. Think about how you may feel about public speaking. That form of mental stress affects many people. Or maybe you suffer from office stress. Many people get so concerned about "having" to make that trek into work that it causes those hormones to alert the body to perceived danger every day.
"The 6:00 a.m. alarm blared cruelly, signalling the beginning of yet another Monday morning in the Walters home. Stanley and Lisa Walters lay motionless, side by side, in their double bed.
Stanley rushed through his morning ritual, including the obligatory shower, shave and brushing of teeth. Years ago, he had actually prepared three schedules that could begin the day. There was the A schedule which involved bounding out of bed at 5 a.m. for vigorous exercise and then enjoying a healthy breakfast while reading stimulating items from the morning paper.
The B schedule involved getting up at 5:30 and consuming a bagel and juice while listening to the news, weather and traffic from the morning team on the radio.
The C schedule, which he had followed every day for the past several years-including this particular Monday morning involved dragging himself out of bed at 6 a.m., rushing to get ready and drinking some marginal coffee obtained from the drive-in window at the combination convenience store and gas station.
As he rode the elevator down to street level, he wondered what had happened to his career that seemed so promising a decade ago when he joined the firm of Feinstein,Morton and Chance. He used to dream of a corner office and being able to work with prestige accounts as he took his place as a partner in the firm. He had long since stopped visualizing the sign on the door reading Feinstein, Morton, Chance and Walters."
Another area of chronic stress injury is your central nervous system. As tension continues to build, nerve energy flow is disrupted. As this gets worse, the entire nervous system can function abnormally.
The spine works in tandem with the nervous system, so of course that area is affected. When the tension gets too high, spinal distortion will eventually occur. Which leads to even more health issues.
Some other physical effects of chronic stress would include:
* Excessive fatigue due to lack of sleep
* Hair loss
* Stomach ache
* Increased risk of arthritis
* Increased stroke risk
* More susceptible to common colds or "nuisance " illness
* Possible negative effect on cancer recovery
* Similar research suggests that stress may help cancer survive against anti-cancer therapy
* Research suggests that some conditions can be passed down to future generations
Some mental effects:
* Lack of motivation
* Anger or irritability
* Stress in early years, in particular violence or abuse, can actually prematurely age a child
* Stress shrinks our brain's gray matter in the areas controlling emotions
* Drug abuse
* Social withdrawal
Here is a link with an in depth analysis of chronic stress and the health risks that accompany it.
"The sun was streaming though the small bedroom window when Lisa Walters woke up to stretch lazily. She glanced at the clock and was surprised that it was already 9:45. Monday was her one full day off each week. Once again, she had failed to keep her commitment to enjoy a full and productive day.
Every Sunday night when she fell into bed after working the late shift in the checkout aisle at the supermarket, she went to sleep with the best of intentions.
She sighed as she threw the covers back and said, 'Well, maybe next week'.
As she was folding her third load of laundry, Lisa remembered a time when she dreamed that life would be better. She had long since given up hoping that life would ever be better, but she wondered if she would ever be able to dream again."
These excerpts are from a fantastic little book by Jim Stovall. The title is "The Lamp." I used them to highlight the ruts we can all fall into as the burdens of life become stressful. We'll follow more of Lisa and Stanley Walter's journey in our page about how to reverse the effects of chronic stress.
"The Lamp" is included in our list of classic books. You'll find it in the left margin of every page.
Chronic stress is not "something that will pass." It is a big deal. As we learned from the page about heart disease, these ailments build on each other to destroy the body.